David Bridges’ son, Cameron, was in “dire straits,” attacking others and risking his safety by trying to run into traffic, at a time when no autism support or funding was available early in his life.
“Now he’s living a fantastic life, largely thanks to the funding that was available to us,” Bridges said of his now 27-year-old son. “It’s been almost like a life-or-death kind of change for him and he’s a happy boy and he’s able to go to work, he’s able to participate safely in activities in society and we’re so happy for him.”
That’s because Cameron received individualized care while growing up, Bridges said, a “lifeline for parents.”
It’s also why the Langley father and his wife Michelle took part in a small event outside the B.C. legislature on Wednesday (Feb. 9) that saw parents, family members and opposition MLAs call on the province to end its plan to phase out individualized funding for neurodiverse children and youth.
Under the new system, families will receive services at community-based hubs by March 2025 and won’t need a diagnosis to access medical care and provincial support.
Elena Lawson, one of the parents who organized Wednesday’s event, is concerned B.C. is taking an approach similar to Ontario, which has seen its autism services wait list balloon to more than 50,000 people.
“We can’t have that here,” she said, adding parents have spent years building support teams for their children. “That’s all getting ripped away from us.”
The province is running information and outreach sessions until this spring to “gather input and help with a smooth transition for families and service providers.”
In Lawson’s experience, she said consultation has basically been non-existent so far. An online information session she attended late last year saw participants muted, she said, which felt as if the government was boasting about the hub model instead of fielding concerns.
Wednesday’s demonstration heard accounts from parents who have seen positive transformations in their children – as well as people on the spectrum who’ve experienced it for themselves – due to the individualized funding system.
Burnaby resident Diane Pearce said her daughter, Madison Ross, couldn’t read, write or count until she received specialized education. “Please listen to the kids, (who) know what works best for them,” Ross told the crowd.
“It’s devastating, my son will be affected by this. There’s going to be regression,” Lawson said. “You’ve worked so hard to build support for your child and they’re so successful, and now (that’s) being ripped away and you don’t know what the future holds.”
The Ministry of Children and Family Development says parents and advocates have told them that the current system isn’t working, leaving children unable to access help. The new “flexible,” trauma-informed, needs-based system will increase support levels for children in rural and remote communities and allow every family to access support, said Kirsten Lauvaas, a ministry spokesperson.
“This idea that you can make sweeping changes without talking to the people that are affected is an unfortunate pattern that we’ve seen with this government,” said newly minted B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon, during a brief appearance at the event. “There is nothing more important than our children when making sure that they get the best possible services they deserve and (families) know what those services are.”
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